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Congress Presses Coast Guard for Answers on USCG Academy Assault Cases

Adm Fagan
USCG Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, July 13 (Congress.gov)

Published Jul 13, 2023 6:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard has apologized for failing to take action on sexual assault cases at the Coast Guard Academy in decades past, and for failing to tell Congress that it had completed and shelved an investigation three years ago. After these disclosures, USCG leadership appears to be headed for a series of pointed hearings on Capitol Hill - beginning with the Senate Subcommitte on Oceans and Fisheries on Thursday.  

“There are a million unanswered questions," Appropriations Committee member Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told local station WSHU. "This is simply unbelievable that the Coast Guard knew that they had a serious problem of sexual assault and harassment and they deliberately covered it up.”

According to reporting by CNN, the U.S. Coast Guard launched an investigation called “Operation Fouled Anchor” in 2014 after a Coast Guard Academy graduate claimed that her allegations of rape from years earlier had never been fully investigated. The woman told CNN that when she first reported the case in 1995, she was pressured by Coast Guard lawyers not to pursue charges. The individual she accused was pushed out of the Coast Guard but went on to become an officer in the Air Force (and is now a serving officer in the Air National Guard). This individual was the only person ever charged in connection with the inquiry; the charges were ultimately dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. 

Operation Fouled Anchor investigators concluded that too much time had passed to pursue legal claims against alleged offenders, and concentrated on possible administrative actions instead. Two senior officers who were among the accused were pushed to retire, without fanfare. In 2020, the operation was quietly concluded, and its report was never shared with congressional oversight committees until the month CNN began its inquiry.

“By not taking appropriate action at the time, we may have further traumatized the victims, delayed access to care and recovery, and prevented some cases from being referred to the military justice system for appropriate accountability,” said USCG Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan in a letter of apology. “We own this failure.”

Sen. Murphy told WSHU that this apology was "too little, too late," and called for "anyone involved in this cover-up" to be dismissed. "We now know they were deliberately hiding the truth," he said in a social media message. As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he suggested there might be new language inserted into the Coast Guard's next budget to address sexual assault reporting and accountability at the academy.

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee is winding up for an inquiry into Operation Fouled Anchor and the alleged pattern of sexual assault at USCGA in years past. Committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has asked the Coast Guard for all available documents and information from the operation, including the names of the personnel involved; this information is due on Friday, and Adm. Fagan has committed to meeting the deadline. 

Adm. Fagan - who was neither commandant nor stationed at Coast Guard headquarters when Operation Fouled Anchor wrapped up - faced tough questions from senators at Thursday's subcommittee hearing. Asked about whether her service would ever again withhold such a critical matter from Congress, she pledged that it would not. 

"Not reporting this investigation is inconsistent with my commitment to transparency, my respect for the oversight that this committee appropriately exercises over the organization," Adm. Fagan said. "I'm committed to bringing the organization forward and ensuring that we've got the appropriate culture of transparency and accountability and are responsive to the committee."

She noted that the service has made "an incredible amount of progress" since Operation Fouled Anchor in terms of policy, and is working to align its handling of SASH cases with the standards of the other military services - including taking prosecution of sexual assault cases outside of the chain of command, as required in the Department of Defense. 

At the hearing's conclusion, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that the Coast Guard's failure to disclose Operation Fouled Anchor to Congress was "intolerable," and added that she plans to call for an independent inspector-general investigation of the case.